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How safe are underride guards?

While prevention of car and truck accidents is always the goal of most highway safety improvements, sometimes another important element is minimizing injuries and deaths when accidents do occur.

Items like seat belts and airbags provide an example of this. They don't prevent accidents, but they save lives and minimize injuries during a crash. A far less obvious example is the tractor-trailer underride guard.

Many drivers may never have noticed the metal superstructure that hangs off the back of semi-truck trailers. They are known as underride guards and are designed to stop a car from sliding underneath the bed of a trailer.

When this occurs, the driver and passenger of the vehicle are subject to potentially grievous injuries should their upper body and head come near the bed of the trailer. A catastrophic crash like this can lead to spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries or death.

By using effective underride guards, lives can be saved and these terrible injuries can be prevented. This results in tremendous societal savings, as individual remain healthy and working and their families do not have to cope with the loss of income or with the cost of long-term medical care.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has been examining the performance of these guards. In 2011, their study found that some of the underride guards installed on trailers did little to protect drivers and motorists in vehicles.

On one trailer, they found that even at 25 miles per hour, there was moderate underride. The regulations required that the guard could prevent an underride at 35 mph, and at that speed, the car suffered "severe underride."

The IIHS called for improved standards, suggesting that U.S. trailers should at least match Canadian standards, and preferably, they should improve on that capability.


Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, "On guard: Safety gear on the back of truck trailers is improving," October 9, 2014

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